31 January 2005

Single...With Children: It's OK To Take Some Time For Yourself While Kids Are On Vacation

Single with Children: Columnist tries to stay sane while children are gone

By Susie Parker

Publication Date: 07/11/01

I considered entitling this particular column "What I Did On My Summer Vacation.''

Or, perhaps a more interesting spin would be, "How I Narrowly Avoided Insanity While My Kids Were Away This Month Visiting Their Father.'' But that one isn't quite true because the "month'' isn't up yet and insanity is a relative term.

As of this writing, I still have 10 more days to remain sane. But I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I'm cautiously optimistic at this point.

Perhaps a little history is in order. Last summer, my kids were a mere five hours away as they visited their father for the prescribed one-month summer visitation stipulation we agreed upon when our divorce became final nearly four years ago. Even though the length of their visit is for the same four weeks this year, they are now more than a few states away, and it feels like I'm in China, even though I'm not.

This summer's visitation required something my daughter tries to avoid at all cost: air travel. My ex-husband and I did some extensive research and found a direct flight, which brought our daughter a small measure of comfort. When I drove them to the airport, I wished for all the world that I could take away her fear and angst, but alas, there is only so much a parent can do.

I put on my most reassuring smile and adopted an entirely upbeat persona that belied the butterflies borne from the ones I know she was feeling. As I walked out of the airport and back to my very silent car, I allowed a few minutes for the inevitable tears that could be put off no longer. Separation anxiety is a nasty business and not just for kids!

So these past three weeks have been spent in a house that is much too silent for my taste. Apparently the animals are in complete agreement. They look at me as if I could fix the situation and provide their respective owners. I spend a few minutes each day commiserating with them, knowing that I'm no doubt a poor substitute for the owners that introduced them into our family so many years ago.

I do get updates. Through the magic of the Internet and Katie's laptop, I bask in the instant gratification of e-mail and instant messages. There are fairly frequent phone calls as well, informing me of places they've been, things they have seen and even anecdotes of living for an extended period of time with step-siblings they don't see very often.

Some days, the reports are positive and funny. Other times, my children express a desire to be back in their own rooms, hanging out with their friends and rejoining the life they live 11 months out of the year. It's during those conversations that I find myself biting my lip because they only mirror what I feel so acutely. It's also my cue to steer the conversation back to benign and safe topics: movie reviews, reminding them to read the books required when school begins again, and all the other topics that won't compromise the "I'm doing great!'' facade I work so diligently to project.

Fortunately, this summer, I have had some serious, mind-numbing work to keep me occupied. I also have invited neighborhood kids to come by and use the swimming pool so I can at least hear laughter wafting up to my office loft. I tease my next-door neighbors to allow their children to be just a little more boisterous because I have found that the silence inside my home is nothing if not deafening. I miss the cacophony of dueling CD stereos, a noise that a few weeks ago I was constantly begging them to turn down to a mild roar.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned on this summer hiatus from parenting came from a friend who, without even realizing it, taught me a very touching lesson on the concept of perspective. The friend I am speaking of is the mother of the young man who lost his battle with leukemia a few months ago and was the subject of a column I wrote in March. I was speaking with Leah on the phone a few days ago. She asked me how I was handling the kids being gone and made the most generous offer of inviting me to call her if I got too bored or lonely.

It was at this point that I realized how essential it is to take notice of all the things in my life I have to be thankful for. I reconsidered my situation and felt embarrassed that this amazing woman, even in the midst of her own grief, could look outside of her personal trauma and offer comfort to me. My friend is grappling with a separation from her child that will last far longer than a month.

In these past few days, I have learned to give thanks that my two healthy teen-agers are having a very important and necessary visit with their father, who loves them very much. They are safe and a mere phone call away, a luxury I have taken for granted. Yes, I still miss both of my children very much and I won't deny that I am still counting the days until I retrieve them from the airport with open arms and lots of hugs and kisses. However, until they return - and because of the wisdom and soul of a very compassionate woman grappling with a loss I can't begin to imagine - I will be more aware of the things I have to be thankful for and more mindful of the people who are dealing with real problems, rather than my selfish and imagined ones. Perspective is a powerful thing.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Department, P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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